LAST LOOK

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View - JANE FRASER

THE statue of the re­cum­bent un­known sol­dier has moved from the back of St Mary’s Cathe­dral in Syd­ney and gone to Can­berra. For four months the Ge­orge Lam­bert sculp­ture will be part of an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia cel­e­brat­ing his works. The great artist was com­mis­sioned in 1928 to do the piece in me­mory of Aus­tralian Catholic sol­diers lost to war. It was un­veiled at St Mary’s in 1931.

It is a won­der­fully poignant piece of art and it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to leave the church with­out run­ning your hands over the bronze like­ness of a Dig­ger who gave his life for the good of his coun­try. In much the same way that not all Chris­tians are good peo­ple, not all sol­diers are mo­ti­vated by the will to con­trib­ute to the peace of na­tions.

A week or so ago, my hus­band and I hired a DVD to watch one idle night: he likes ac­tion films, so we chose Blood Di­a­mond . I lasted about 10 sec­onds. Not only was the vi­o­lence against vil­lagers by ma­raud­ing sol­diers in Sierra Leone enough to make you want to throw your­self un­der a truck, but Leonardo DiCaprio acted the part of a swoon­ing swain.

Blood Di­a­mond is only a film, al­though it gives us pause for thought. In real life, Africa is no­to­ri­ous for its thug sol­diers. Robert Mu­gabe — or Mugsy, as some of us call him — was ed­u­cated by the Je­suits at the Ku­tama Mis­sion in Zim­babwe. In 1977, his sol­diers mas­sa­cred seven work­ers at Musami Mis­sion, an­other Je­suit cen­tre. Months later, one of the per­pe­tra­tors said: ‘‘ If the Jews hadn’t killed Christ, I’d have done it my­self.’’

Then there’s Uganda’s Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Re­sis­tance Army.

This is a part of Africa where an en­tire so­ci­ety lives un­der threat of hav­ing its chil­dren be­tween the ages of seven and 17 ab­ducted and killed or turned into killers. One of the most ter­ri­fy­ing sights in the world is that of a teenager with a loaded Kalash­nikov.

Kony is a mad­man who rules with a mix­ture of charis­matic Chris­tian­ity, tribal re­li­gion and bas­tardised Is­lam: he claims to be un­der or­ders from the Holy Spirit to go on killing un­til Uganda is ruled by the Ten Com­mand­ments.

How for­tu­nate we are to live in a coun­try so proud of our sol­diers. But the burial ear­lier this month, with full mil­i­tary hon­ours, of two men killed in Viet­nam, whose bod­ies were found 40 years later, re­minds us of the im­per­ma­nence of peace.

Our un­known sol­dier, which lay largely un­no­ticed in the crypt, was brought up­stairs in 2004, and a copy of the news­pa­per Labour Daily , dated 1931, was found be­neath it. Neil Brown, the dean of St Mary’s who con­ducts en­light­en­ing tours of the crypt ev­ery Sun­day, says he misses the statue al­ready. He de­scribes the model as a man with a real Bondi beach face and says it is a great favourite with school­child­ren, who love to touch and ad­mire it.

fraserj@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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